“You have to remember that EA is a marketing driven company,” writes an anonymous poster on DSLR who claims to have worked for Electronic Arts. “The marketing department has almost complete control over the process and finished product.”
This is quite evident in the new Need for Speed: Underground 2, EA’s latest, er, advertising vehicle. Racers drive past billboards hawking Campbell’s soup and Old Spice, and realistic facsimiles of Burger King and Best Buy franchises. A Cingular Wireless icon surgically welded to the GUI acts as the communications controls. The exquisitely detailed real-life Hondas, Toyotas and other real cars can collide head-on with brick walls and escape with nary a blemish – a kowtow to the automakers, who forbid their gas-powered creations to be shown as unsafe or imperfect in any way.
This is also the first time a major song artist will premiere a song in a videogame. That’s right, NFSU2’s menu screen will be the first worldwide debut of Snoop Dogg’s remix of The Door’s “Riders in the Storm”. Other top billing artists also feature, including Mudvayne and Chingy.
Underground 2 is not the first EA game to have advertising or EA Trax, but neither has a videogame comes this close to blurring the lines between entertainment and commercial. It is a grand experiment in making EA a mainstream media powerhouse that is as profit driven as possible.
However, you can hardly blame EA for putting advertising, sponsoring and licensing in the front seat; the Wall Street Journal states game developers now spend $10 million or more in building and marketing a triple-A title, and that money has to come from somewhere.
As games enter the mainstream, advertising seems inevitable. (Even live-from-the-Internet ads are being considered.) The trick is to design ads that do not break the immersive environment of the game.
As for the grand experiment, most gamers seem to be taking the Burger King-ified game in stride. But perhaps the Cingular icon was one step too far; as someone further in the thread raged, “It’s not like the billboards where at least you can say “well i’m in a city, there’s billboards. there’s a burger king”. but this damn logo on my windshield?”
In the D drive: Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Silent Hill 4: The Room Trial Version